Note: This story contains spoilers for “Tua,” a Fox Sports documentary set to air on KHON2 at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 12.
Tua Tagovailoa was built differently from the start. Ever since his late grandfather, Seu, prophesied that the Tagovailoa name was bound to be known worldwide, the onus was on Galu and Diane’s eldest child to deliver.
“Before I picked up a football,” Tua Tagovailoa says, “I’d say my destiny was pretty much laid out for me.”
Nearly two decades later, the 22-year-old Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback appears to have lived up to Seu’s mammoth expectations and then some. Following a standout career at the University of Alabama in which he was a national champion and Heisman Trophy runner-up, Tagovailoa became the rare college star known nationally on a first-name basis.
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Despite a devastating hip injury that ended his amateur career, Tagovailoa’s stardom has not dwindled, as Fox is set to air a one-hour documentary on the Ewa Beach native aptly titled “Tua.” In Hawaii, it is set to air Sunday at 10 a.m. on KHON2, along with a primetime rebroadcast at 8 p.m.
An advance copy of the documentary provided to KHON2 explores the Tagovailoa lineage, as well as the highs and lows Tua faced at every level of his football career. A camera crew also follows him during parts of the pre-draft process, displaying emotional and previously unseen moments.
The documentary begins on a clear spring morning in Ohatchee, Ala., just days before the 2020 NFL Draft. Draped in Adidas gear, Tua goes on a solo mission to the middle of the lake outside the family’s home to fish. It appears to be one of the few times the hectic draft process has allowed him to have a moment to himself. Afterwards, Galu holds a workout session for Tua and Taulia in the backyard.
The first part of the documentary explains how the Tagovailoa family made their way to Hawaii from Samoa generations ago with aspirations of the family name one day gaining prominence. As Galu and Diane Tagovailoa’s firstborn, Tua immediately gained special attention from Seu. Just as Seu was there to constantly encourage and remind Tua of his potential, Galu (Seu’s son) was the willing vessel always ready to push the lefty towards greatness, with excursions to the beach that were more like business trips instead of family fun. They would go mainly for football drills.
As Tua Tagovailoa began to dominate the youth football circuit on the west side of Oahu, the documentary reveals that Galu was seriously considering sending Tua to Punahou to continue his education. But because of his connection with Saint Louis quarterbacks coach Vince Passas, the family ultimately decided that he would join the Crusader brotherhood.
Unfortunately, Seu passed away on July 23, 2014, shortly before Tagovailoa’s sophomore season. Although he briefly considered quitting, Tua ultimately decided that Seu would want him to play and fulfill his destiny.
“He didn’t get to watch me play,” Tua said. “Somewhere else, though.”
Tua’s maternal grandparents were also influential in his career, as the documentary portrays them encouraging him to attend top-ranked Alabama instead of USC for college.
Tua entered Tuscaloosa as a known commodity because of his status as a five-star recruit and 2016 Elite 11 champion. However, Jalen Hurts, who was a year ahead of Tua, maintained his spot as the starter throughout the 2017 season because of his consistent play.
The night before the 2018 national championship game against Georgia, it was Tua’s turn to tell the future.
“All of our lives are gonna change tomorrow,” Diane Tagovailoa recalls Tua telling his parents.
After entering the game to begin the second half with a 13-0 deficit, Tagovailoa guided the Crimson Tide to overtime, where he won the game on the iconic ‘second-and-26’ play, a perfectly thrown 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith that gave the Crimson Tide the national title. It also unofficially solidified his place as Alabama’s starter for the season that followed, overtaking Hurts, who went 26-2 as a starter with the Crimson Tide. Just like that, second-and-26 overtook 26-2.
A star was born in Atlanta that night, but Galu was quick to tell Tua that more work had to be done. The next season, Tagovailoa set Alabama records for passing touchdowns (43) and yards (3,966) in a single season. An ankle injury hindered his abilities at the tail end of the season, and he finished second in the Heisman Trophy race. Alabama made the national championship game again, but got routed by Clemson 44-16. Still, he entered his junior season as college football’s biggest name and the favorite to be the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Everything changed on Nov. 16, 2019. During a road game at Mississippi State, two defenders fell on Tagovailoa, causing a broken nose, concussion and fractured hip, with the hip injury providing the biggest immediate threat to his football career. The documentary takes a turn as Tagovailoa is lifted onto a small aircraft that transports him to surgery, leading him to wonder if he’ll ever be able to play again. Dr. E. Lyle Cain explains that time is of the essence during Tagovailoa’s surgery and that there are a set of circumstances that have to go right in order to him to recover properly.
Perhaps what viewers tuning in on Sunday will find most surprising about the documentary is how it shows the human side of Tagovailoa in ways never seen before. At every stop in his football career, Tagovailoa has been widely known and presented as a contagiously positive figure. But as the documentary crew films Tagovailoa throughout the pre-draft process, his will is tested on multiple occasions. On top of his grueling rehab, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the world, but not before a tornado ripped through his car during training in Nashville, Tenn. All the while, Tagovailoa was trying to complete his college degree and get strong enough to hold a personal pro day. In one scene, he’s seen lamenting his misfortunes to Galu on a phone call.
When draft day finally comes, Tagovailoa is seen donning a suit that honors his grandparents. Meanwhile, some family members are in the kitchen preparing Spam musubi. Tagovailoa’s playful side is seen, as he breaks out a Conor McGregor impression when he’s in his full wardrobe. His introspective side is also shown, as he breaks away from the gathering at the Ohatchee home to pray that his fortunes do not change the family’s values.
The phone call between Tagovailoa and Dolphins general manager Chris Grier informing him that he will be the fifth pick of the draft is divulged in full towards the end of the film, creating an emotional scene between Tagovailoa and those close to him, including his mother and family friend Challen Faamatau.
Once Tagovailoa addresses the rest of party in a separate room, the coronation is complete. He’s celebrated and greeted by friends and family in attendance for something he’s worked his whole life for.
All eyes will be on Tagovailoa as he heads into his first NFL season. Even if he doesn’t start right away, his arrival in Miami has inspired hope that the team has found its franchise quarterback. With high standards placed on him since birth, Tua gladly accepts the pressure.
Seu would expect nothing less.